Sara Stevenson - Lake Jocassee

Devils Fork - Laurel Creek waterfall - return

21.5 km (13.4 miles)

7 hours, 42 minutes on 11 May 2021

Observed and documented by Janine Serell




  • Name: Sara Stevenson
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 32
  • Nationality: United States
  • Resides: Charleston, South Carolina

Support Personnel

  • Brian Lanahan - crew and pilot
  • Janine Serell - observer

Escort Vessel

Name Type Port
S.S. Sally kayak Charleston, SC

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: textile swimsuit (TYR Durafest Diamondfit one-piece), goggles (Speedo Vanquishers), silicone swim cap.

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Lake Jocassee, South Carolina
  • Route Type: two-way
  • Start Location: Devils Fork State Park Villa Beach (34.957252, -82.943151)
  • Finish Location: Laurel Creek Waterfall, entrance behind cliff face (35.0319, -82.89423)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 21.5 km (13.4 miles) (map)


No previous documented marathon swims in Lake Jocassee.

Swim Data

  • Start: 11 May 2021, 08:30:00 (Eastern Standard (America/New_York), UTC-4).
  • Finish: 11 May 2021, 16:12:52
  • Elapsed: 7 hours, 42 minutes, 53 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (F) 64 68.4
Air Temp (F) 63 87.8
Wind (knots) 0 10

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Nutrition: Tailwind, every 30 minutes. Occasional apple cider, PB cup, apple sauce.

Observer Log

Download PDF


by Sara Stevenson

I fell in love with Lake Jocassee during an event there in 2019 and knew the moment I got out of the water that I would be back there again to swim farther. Little did I know the twists and turns of 2020 would lead me back to Lake Jocassee for what would be my first documented marathon swim. 

After the event I was training for in 2020 was cancelled (Lido Key), I was able to pivot and do a long swim locally, around Folly Island. That was a huge confidence boost, but I wanted to see what I could do without a tidal assist. That’s when I started thinking of Jocassee again. 

While 2020 was a hard year to plan for anything, I was lucky to still have access to a tiny lake, eventually a pool, and lots of free time. So, I just swam, and kept swimming in open water when it started getting cold, a first for me. 

I started mapping out different potential routes--including the route for this swim--but couldn’t earnestly plan to with all that was happening in 2020, and mostly kept the idea on the backburner. I did mention the idea to a few people, and luckily Janine really caught on to the idea. Thanks to her leadership, she organized several days with other swimmers and support crew gathering at the Devils Fork State Park Villas in early May. 

Once the swim dates were set, the real training began. To prepare for this I swam 4-5 days a week in the pool and 1-2 in open water. Lots of long swims on Saturdays and cold swims on Sundays. Got the feeds dialed in and learned to enjoy the cold. 

After doing more research of the Lake and the area, I decided on the route from the Villa Beach, a protected cove from boat traffic to the Laurel Fork Waterfall and back to the beach, 11k each way, 22k total. This route kept me away from the boat traffic as well as the dams that surround this lake, which are the reason why this lake exists. It is the largest manmade lake in South Carolina, created by Duke Power in 1973 for hydroelectric power. Former towns still lie 150 to 350 ft below the surface. In fact, I ended up swimming only a few hundred feet away from Mt. Carmel Cemetery (from the movie The Deliverance) and Camp Jocassee, a former girls’ summer camp. 

The lake is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Pickens, SC. It is created by several mountain streams and waterfalls, including the 80 ft tall Laurel Fork Waterfall, which causes it to stay cool and clear all year long. This waterfall is a destination spot on the lake and seemed like a good fit for a turnaround location. The base of the waterfall is surrounded by fallen logs, so the crack in the cliff to the waterfall entrance served as the official turnaround point.

The swim was moved up from the planned day, as the weather looked much more favorable. That was the right call, and it was a perfect day on and in the water. The start was a small gathering of the other swimmers there, cheering me on. The first hour, after leaving the protected beach area, was the windiest part of the day. But once we left the main basin the winds calmed, and the clear water was an impressive emerald green.

My cold water training apparently went well, and on the first or second feed I said, “the water feels warm, must be 70 degrees.” Janine kindly replied, “it isn’t,” leaving off the fact that it was 64 degrees. It did warm up during the day, and I ended up taking fewer warm feeds than planned. My warm feed was apple cider and the cold feeds were either Tailwind or water with apple sauce. 

The swim up to the waterfall was beautiful but otherwise uneventful, maybe a boat or two the entire stretch to the Laurel Creek Waterfall. Brian did a great job of navigating the route, so I was able to easily relax into the swim.

As we arrived at the waterfall there was a pontoon with tourists viewing the waterfall through the crack in the cliffside, and we knew we were almost to the turnaround point--the crack in the cliffs to the base of the waterfall. All the boaters gave me a wave and a cheer, which was a nice pick-me-up. Although I didn’t need it, as the water got colder with each stroke closer to the waterfall. We cleared the corner around the cliff, the designated turnaround point, and got as close to the waterfall as safely possible. The view was stunning, though I was a bit distracted by the cold mountain water. The crew took some photos, I took a moment to look it up and down, then put my head down and starting swimming since I had more work to do. 

The rest of the swim back was again smooth, with only one quick interaction with some very polite but incredulous fishermen who offered to take me fishing instead. It was also considerably warmer. Not a problem for me in the cool water, but the crew got a little toasty in the 90-degree direct sun. It did get a little overcast as the afternoon wore on, so they did eventually get some relief. 

The only issue the whole day was waking up with a bit of eye pain from what turned out to be a stye. While the pain was managed during the swim with ibuprofen, I did end up paying for my decision to wear contacts for the swim--literally, at an urgent care center two days later. I’ll be ordering some prescription goggles this summer and won’t repeat that mistake again. But everything else went according to plan.

I enjoyed the swim immensely. The lush greens and silky blues made the day fly by. Before I knew it, I was back in the main basin and in the home stretch to the Villa Beach. I made a new plan and told them: give me a caffeine bottle now, and I will let you know when I run out of gas and need another caffeine feed. I was still feeling good and wanted to negatively split the return trip through the main lake basin. I didn’t quite reach that negative split goal, but still had a great return to the beach. The cheer squad were there at the beach and the dock to cheer me in. The water was still clear, and I even saw some fish as I started to put my feet down.

It was an incredible and unforgettable day on the water. I tested myself with the distance and the cold, and succeeded, thanks to the Brian and Janine’s unwavering support. Not just on the swim day, but on the countless other cold winter days shivering together and questioning our sanity. This lake is a swimmer’s dream, and I hope other swimmers are able to do some epic swims here soon.


Click to enlarge.


Ratification Notes

  • Video of start shows Sara shortly after entering the water - would be better to have actual video of entry. If observer can’t see directly, then have the kayaker take it.
  • No clear photo or video of Sara touching cliff face or land at the turnaround.
  • No video of finish / exit from water.